[LINK] 'UK Committee Suggests Libel Rules For Websites'

Roger Clarke Roger.Clarke at xamax.com.au
Fri Oct 21 17:24:43 AEDT 2011

[The details need to be thought through carefully, but the good news 
is that this UK Parltry Ctee seems to be doing some of precisely 

UK Committee Suggests Libel Rules For Websites
October 20, 2011
Steve McCaskill
eWeek Europe

A [UK] parliamentary committee suggests websites should be required 
to remove anonymous libels

A joint Parliamentary committee has said that websites should have 
protection from defamation cases if they respond swiftly to allegedly 
libellous comments from anonymous posters.

It says that websites which identify authors and publish complaints 
alongside comments should get legal protection.

Hidden identity

The recommendation is part of a wider review into the UK's defamation 
laws aimed at promoting free speech and reducing the "unacceptably" 
high costs of libel cases. Currently, websites are liable for 
defamatory statements made by their users and if they fail to remove 
a comment which prompts a complaint, they risk becoming the "primary 
publisher" of the statement.

The committee proposes a "notice and takedown procedure" whereby 
complaints are displayed alongside the offending comments and the 
complainant can then apply for a takedown order at a court, as long 
as the author is identified. If a website does not comply, then they 
should be treated as the publisher of the comment.

However anonymous comments should still be immediately removed from 
the website unless the author volunteers their identity. Conversely, 
websites can apply for a "leave-up" order if they believe an 
anonymous comment is on a matter of "significant" public interest.

Anonymity "discourages responsibility"

The committee has criticised anonymous comments saying that although 
they may "encourage free speech", they "discourage responsibility" 
and hopes that such reforms would lead to a general recognition that 
such posts are unreliable.

However Mumsnet co-founder Justine Roberts told the BBC that many of 
its users rely on using user names as opposed to their real name as 
it provides them with the freedom to speak honestly about difficult 

The site currently receives about ten complaints a month, a figure it 
fears would increase should the committee's recommendations be 

The Committee has also proposed the introduction of a "single 
publication rule" which would give potential claimants only one year 
from the allegedly defamatory material's date of publication to 
launch libel action. Currently this year-long window of opportunity 
restarts every time an article is downloaded or accessed from the 

The report is published amid a backdrop of an ongoing debate about 
libel laws in the UK. In May, the British High Court issued an 
injunction to Facebook and Twitter that prevented them from 
publishing damaging information online and in August, Atos 
Healthcare, the company responsible for doling out government 
incapacity benefit, began threatening legal action against websites 
and forums which aggregated patient's experiences, accusing them of 

Roger Clarke                                 http://www.rogerclarke.com/
Xamax Consultancy Pty Ltd      78 Sidaway St, Chapman ACT 2611 AUSTRALIA
                    Tel: +61 2 6288 1472, and 6288 6916
mailto:Roger.Clarke at xamax.com.au                http://www.xamax.com.au/

Visiting Professor in the Cyberspace Law & Policy Centre      Uni of NSW
Visiting Professor in Computer Science    Australian National University

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